The First World War radically changed the landscape of moviemaking. Before 1914, Europeans had dominated the booming industry — France, Italy, Germany and even Denmark had sent films across the globe. At first they were just shorts, but by 1913 companies were developing long-form storytelling in “feature” films that could run an hour or more. Audiences poured into movie houses.
The war brought that European domination to an end. Film stock was rationed. Workers were sent to the front. American film companies, benefiting from neutrality, swept into secondary markets like Australia and South America. Moving into Europe and Asia, several companies established foreign offices to distribute their product directly and set prime prices. By the end of the war, the center of the global film industry had shifted to the United States, and in particular Los Angeles, where one neighborhood was already providing the shorthand term for the emerging studio system: Hollywood.
The American studios were not just lucky to expand at a time of turmoil in Europe. They also brought a new approach to filmmaking. Detailed shooting scripts broke scenes into shots. Specialists were assigned to set design, costuming, photography, editing and other tasks. This system helped manage the complicated plots demanded by feature-length films.